Pressed during the second debate on whether she believes human activity is a cause of climate change, [Karen] Handel demurred, saying: “I am not a scientist.”

[Jon] Ossoff shot back: “Well, neither of us are scientists. That’s why we have scientists. And 97 percent of scientists, as well as the military and the intelligence community, agree that climate change is a threat to our security and prosperity and that it’s driven in part by human activity.”

But Trump’s presence looms over both of them.

After Handel made it to the runoff, Trump came to Atlanta to raise $750,000 for her. “You better win,” he told her.

“Trump looms over Georgia special election, a proxy battle for 2018,” Washington Post, June 10, 2017

No wonder Trump said those words to Handel, the Republican contender in the June 20 special election to fill Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District seat, left vacant by Trump’s appointment of Tom Price as Secretary of Health and Human Services. If Handel wins, she will have effectively saved his presidency.

If Jon Ossoff cannot take that seat away from the GOP (which has controlled it for 38 years), then no Republican member of the House or Senate anywhere in the country will be afraid of remaining deferential to Trump. A Handel win would mean that Republican voters are simply unwilling to switch sides under any circumstances, and will remain loyal to the GOP, no matter how corrupt or compromised the party is, simply to achieve partisan aims.

Special elections are almost always won by the political coalition that’s hungrier for a victory, and with one week to go, it remains something of an open question as to whether the desire among Ossoff’s supporters to break the right wing’s will is greater than the passion among Trump’s loyalists to protect their man at all costs. Handel is a truly pathetic candidate, but she is backed by folks who know that her victory would effectively kill the Resistance with one shot; defeating Ossoff and disappointing those who want Trump to be held accountable would terminate the Indivisible movement with extreme prejudice.

Ossoff may be ahead in some polls, but when’s the last time a poll voted?

Nervous Democrats are not planning a victory party yet. [Republican consultant Mark] Roundtree noted that records showing who has cast early votes in the special election so far include more voters with a GOP primary voting history, as opposed to voters with a history of voting in Democratic primaries. (Voters do not register by party in Georgia; past primary participation is the closest proxy in Georgia’s voter registration data.)

But several Atlanta-area consultants also said that President Donald Trump’s low favorability in the district “inevitably hurts Handel and any other Republican running in a district like this one — suburban, well-educated, affluent,” said Chip Lake, another Republican consultant in the state.

The fact that the Sixth Congressional District is “suburban, well-educated [and] affluent” means nothing if a majority of voters in that district buy into stereotypes about the Democratic Party and vote with such stereotypes in mind (as they have in the past). The right-wing “Ossoff is Pelosi with a penis!” advertising angle is sleazy and false, of course–but if it ultimately works, it will prove that no amount of evidence of Trump’s treachery will be enough to turn Republican voters, and thus Republican elected officials, against him.

Remember the outcome of the 2002 midterm elections, and how that outcome resulted in four more years of an unaccountable Bush administration? A Handel victory would be a blueprint for a GOP House and Senate victory in the 2018 midterms–and the ramifications of Trump remaining unaccountable are profound. If Ossoff loses, the same sick feeling Democrats had once Trump was announced as the winner of the Electoral College will return with a vengeance. Russia will not matter. Bad poll numbers will not matter. The only things that will matter are elections and the blind, unshakable, fact-resistant loyalty Republican voters show when those elections, special or regular, come around.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.